Noemi Proud sat on the pretty pink stool in her own bathroom. Her brothers had to share one. She stroked her hair, counting out each. 11, 12…She smiled. She loved her long brown hair, its smell, the way everyone said such nice things about it. 44, 45, 46. She could hear her brothers down the hall, playing, fighting. A faint smell of spaghetti sauce. 83, 84. She forced herself to stop, fearing her counting obsession would take over her whole brain the way it did some mornings, when she couldn’t turn it off unless she got into a fight with her mom or a friend at school.
The brush fell out of her hand.
Her left arm fell from her body.
She stared at it, laying on the tiled floor, not moving. She screamed, unsure of what else to do. She could hear her father rushing up the stairs.
She reached for her smartphone with her free arm, snapped a picture, then posted it.
Stevie closed the bathroom door, told brain to turn on the fan-vent, and pulled out his phone. He tapped on the pictures of his girlfriend’s older sister. He reached for the toilet paper. He unzipped his pants. His right arm fell off at the elbow. He looked down, saw his mess on the floor. He told brain to have mopper clean it up. He texted his friends.
Motherfucking arm. Just fell off. Look.
He didn’t really want to be there. His parents pushed him into wrestling, mostly his mom, in fact. And this guy, fucking gorilla. No way he could take him. How could he possibly be in the same weight class? His legs unhinged themselves from his hips, just like that, and dropped to the floor.
With nothing to hold him up, his now-stump of a body plopped onto the mat. He looked about, embarrassed.
Several in the audience screamed. His parents raced down from the stands. Coach and a few of his teammates carried him back to the bench. Still in shock, he wasn’t sure exactly what they were saying. His mind raced. He smiled. His parents would never again punish him for spending all him time on screens. How could they? After this. He squirmed to the edge of the bench, grabbed his smartphone from his gym bag, pushed a button and chatted with his girlfriend. Her family had moved to Texas last year.
I miss you.
The handsome young doctor was determined to stop this, to make sure no other child was inflicted. With the help of brain, he knew that 93% of the sufferers were between the ages of 13–17. They were disproportionately white or Latino, most attending large public schools, but there was little else in common. Some had good grades, some did not. Some participated in organized activities, but not all. Some where thin, some fat. He asked brain to re-analyze the DNA of the parents, hoping to uncover any patterns, which he then instructed brain to overlay onto the map on the giant screen before him. His left arm twitched. My God, he thought. Now me? He grabbed hold of it with his right hand, clutching, praying it didn’t fall off. The twitch stopped. He shrugged. Foolish. This only impacts children.
Frustrated, the handsome doctor sought out his mentor, a hyper-fit woman with strong facial features, tragically killed in her early 60s while investigating an outbreak of Bangka-polio in Indonesia. He spoke to brain and a adequate facsimile of the doctor appeared before him, and with it all her works, her words, her posted thoughts, her questions and whereabouts, who she was with at all the times, how she ever felt.
You look good.
The doctor instructed brain to to provide his mentor with all his accessible knowledge. We will end this, he thought. I don’t see it now, but I will.
We will end this together, his mentor smiled back at him.
Jason was only 12, younger than the others. He had his computer screen open. The television was blaring. He was texting with two friends. Both his feet fell off his body He screamed for his mother. His right arm unhinged, then dropped. He didn’t know it at the time, but he was first to have different limbs fall off. He screamed again. He told the television to mute. He used his voice to text his friends.
I’m gonna get bionics! For everything!
No, get a horse leg! Those are so cool.
Lily stared into the mirror and smiled. She assessed her self while drying off. Black hair. A pretty face, adorable, full lips, big round green eyes, cute, perfect nose. And her body. She giggled, touching herself, all over. Her mother was attractive, obviously. Her father was handsome, everyone said so. But somehow, the combination of their dna had arrranged itself perfectly, and without fetal construction surgery, at least that’s what her parents told everyone, resulting in undeniable physical perfection. Perfection at 16. Her mother had already spoken to her about choosing the right man. Her body was simply too perfect, her face too pretty to not demand the absolute best. Her body dry, the vents quieted. She placed her brush back on the shelf. Her arm fell off.
What the fuck!
Then she remembered reading about a girl who lost her hand in a boating accident. They replaced it with a bionic hand. She wondered if her parents would let her have a bionic hand. Then she wondered what colors they came in. No, she thought. One of those baboon arms, the kind they print at university. Everyone would talk about that. Everyone. She took a picture of her still-perfect naked body, but not showing her head, and posted it online. She giggled again.
Noemi’s mom held her head high. She dared anyone, any child, any teacher, any parent, to make fun of her daughter’s new arm. This was not a tragedy. Absolutely not. This was a blessing. The new arm, verifiably better than the original, was colored, bejeweled, and proudly stamped with its brand name and place of origin. Noemi was just happy she could still text with her hands, her parents were always listening in on every word she said. Even better, the nootropics the doctors gave her to fight depression, which she lied about, kept her awake for all but 4 hours a day. More screen time. No one could deny her that, not in her condition.
Her mother did not tell anyone, not even the doctor, at how Noemi treated the carebot. She treated the poor thing even worse when affirmation was set to 10. She feared that maybe her daughter was a psychopath. Isn’t that a sign, she wondered? Torture a carebot when you’re young, kill when you get older? She vowed to stay silent. What else could be done?
Michael was the closest he had ever been to beating computer. He knew it was impossible. Still, only two moves behind, this was his best-ever showing. Was it theoretically possible to end a match in a draw? It must be, he thought. He was determined to find out. He adjusted his backside on the chair. His right leg dropped off.
He told brain to put his favorite song on infinite loop, swallowed the no-sleep pills his parents got him for admissions week. All the time in the world now, he thought. I will beat this thing.
Yes, doctor, but the brain scans reveal no change in the limbic system. The older female doctor’s avatar continued to push the handsome younger doctor. A few of the children have experienced a more heightened readout in their frontal lobe, that’s all. They are actually getting more done. We need to consider that this is not necessarily harmful.
No, I can’t believe that, the young doctor replied. We can’t just do nothing. Their limbs are falling off! Besides, we still don’t know how this spreads, of if it’s self-induced.
Is it coming through the screens?
We checked that before I sent for you.
The young doctor took hold of one of the legs, perfectly preserved.
If only I could feel them, too.
I was thinking the same thing.
Have any of the children actually complained?
No more than usual.